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Experts say COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people with cancer. Vanessa Leroy/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Researchers report people with cancer don’t experience any greater side effects from the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines than the general population.
  • The researchers tracked the short-term side effects from more than 1,700 recipients of the Pfizer vaccine.
  • Experts say the study should provide reassurances to people with cancer that they can safely get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Past research has indicated, though, that people with some types of cancer do not receive a significant boost in antibodies from the vaccines.

More than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have reportedly been administered across 184 countries.

In the United States, more than 543 million doses have been administered so far.

Despite the widespread use of the vaccines, some people with cancer question whether the shots are safe for them.

A group of researchers has published a study on Feb. 7 that may provide some reassurance.

The researchers report that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, such as those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, are just as safe for people with cancer as they are for everyone else.

The Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers in Philadelphia tracked short-term side effects from more than 1,700 recipients of the Pfizer vaccine.

They said they found no other reactions for people undergoing active cancer treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy) or who had completed treatment.

The results came from in-person, phone, and online surveys given to people who received 2 doses of the mRNA vaccine, 3 weeks apart, between Feb. 16 and May 15, 2021.

A total of 1,183 people with a history of cancer responded.

Respondents experienced pain at the injection site, muscle pain, joint pain, fever, chills, headache, nausea, and fatigue at similar rates as those reported by people without cancer from the original clinical trials.

Adverse effects for people undergoing immunotherapy also mirrored those in the general population.

“Patients, their families, and their medical caregivers should absolutely find these results reassuring. We surveyed almost 2,000 patients and found that cancer patients aren’t at risk for any unexpected reactions to being vaccinated compared to people without cancer,” Dr. Eric M. Horwitz, the study’s lead researcher and chair of the department of radiation oncology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, said in a press statement.

“We now have the data and the clinical experience from thousands and thousands and thousands of cancer patients who have been vaccinated. We know that the mRNA vaccines are safe and are absolutely the most effective way to prevent hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” he added.

Horwitz noted that it is “crucial that cancer patients get vaccinated against COVID-19 because we know they can be particularly vulnerable to infection and its consequences, but some people have expressed concerns about possible reactions from the vaccines.”

Before this study, there wasn’t much data on the cancer population.

“Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 was an opportunity for me to take control and help protect myself,” Dan Burkus, who has received treatment from Fox Chase Cancer Center, said in a press statement.

“Undergoing cancer treatment and follow-up can be terrifying, especially during a pandemic. This new proof that people with cancer won’t have any extra side effects from the mRNA vaccines is one less thing to worry about and one more reason to get the shot,” he added.

Dr. Natalie S. Callander, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center as well as a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Advisory Committee on COVID-19, said the researchers “convincingly showed no greater incidence of side effects in patients with a history of cancer and, in fact, recipients with a history of cancer had lower rates of pain at the injection site.”

Callander also noted that more than half the people had a history of cancer, and about 18 percent were on active treatment.

“This study demonstrates that cancer patients experience no greater rate of complications and should help to counteract misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations,” Callander told Healthline.

“This report provides additional reassurance to practitioners and patients that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and should be offered without hesitation, in accordance with [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] and NCCN recommendations,” she added.

Despite the latest study results, there have been issues with some people with cancer and their ability to get the full positive effects of the vaccines.

As Healthline reported in August, a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) study showed that 25 percent of people with blood cancer in the United States were not getting any antibody production from COVID-19 vaccines.

That study, published in the journal Cancer Cell, noted that common immunosuppressive cancer treatments, such as the monoclonal antibody treatment Rituxan and CAR-T cell immunotherapies, can affect the body’s ability to make antibodies.

Experts at LLS told Healthline that people with blood cancer (lymphomas, leukemias, and other blood cancers) are among the most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.